Honors Chemistry
Chemistry CP
AP Chemistry
Test Success
About Dr. V.

Test Taking Tips

I think everyone gets anxious when it's time for a test.  In some ways, a little anxiety can be motivating, but for some students the pressure is overwhelming.  The key to successful test taking lies in preparation, which is basically under your control.   There is a skill to taking a test, however.  Since it's not an inborn gift like perfect pitch, you can actually learn to take tests better.  Some students just learn these skills sooner than others.  You can learn them, too!   Remember, the purpose is to find out what you know, and your grade is not a measure of your value as a person.  It's just one test, and there are other ways you will demonstrate your new and expanding knowledge of chemistry this year.

These test-taking strategies are directed at regular classroom tests, not standardized tests.  In my classroom, test grades are based on points earned, with no "guessing penalty."  I don't grade on a curve, and I don't typically schedule retakes, "scale" the test, or assign test corrections to raise student test scores.  I believe that the tests I give are fair and represent an appropriate sampling of the material assigned and studied in that particular unit.  Most questions are straightforward, but I generally include one or more challenge questions on each test.  Sometimes a small amount of extra credit will be available on a test, but points will only be given if all the regular questions are answered.

How To Take A Test

First, don't panic!  It's just a test, so keep breathing.  Sometimes there will be corrections or extra instructions, so listen for them as the test is being passed out.  Be sure to write your name on the test, and any other information that is needed.  Some reference materials, such as periodic tables, will be provided.  I always make it clear in class (usually long before the test) what needs to be memorized (key formulas, etc.) and what reference materials will be available.

When you get the test, quickly skim over the entire test.  What types of sections are present?  Do certain questions or problems stand out as being especially challenging or particularly easy?  When your heart stops racing and you recover your train of thought, it's time to start writing.  Read the directions for each section and each question carefully.  One key piece of advice:  Always try to answer every question.  Don't ever leave a question blank, because you can't get any credit for no answer.  If what you write down is even remotely related to the question, however, you may earn some partial credit.  Even one point is better than none!  I have encountered instances when grading tests, in which a student failed because several questions were left blank, but even a minimal attempt to answer the questions would have been enough to earn a passing, albeit low, grade.

Different question types require different strategies.  Use the point value of a question to gauge the amount of time you should spend on it.  In general, you should spend less than a minute on "recognition/recall tasks" like true/false, matching, multiple choice, or fill in the blank questions, which are a time-efficient way to measure recall of information such as definitions, key terms, etc.  Save your time for open-response short answer or essay questions, which are usually more involved and may require synthesis, application, or extension of material studied in class.  Questions from one part of the test might even help you answer other question on the test, so stay alert for useful clues. Before you hand in a test, look it over carefully to check for obvious or careless mistakes, ensure that all questions have been answered, and make sure your name is on the test!

Question Types and Strategies

  • True/False

I'm not a big fan of true/false questions, but I do use them occasionally.  Read the instructions carefully--sometimes I like to combine question types.  Use the information that you know.  Take a guess if you need to.  Look for true qualifiers:  sometimes, usually, some, most, rarely.  Look for false qualifiers:  all, none, always, never.  Don't spend a lot of time on these questions, as the answers are very brief.

  • Multiple Choice

Read through all the choices carefully.  Eliminate any responses that are obviously incorrect.  Well constructed multiple choice questions will not include any grammar-based clues, but grammar  may help eliminate choices in poorly worded questions.  Multiple choice questions that involve selecting sets of responses, a number of similarly worded choices, or a combination of question types can be very misleading, so don't get tripped up.  If you can confidently eliminate two of the choices, you have a good chance of guessing correctly.  Many times your first response is the correct one, so , when checking your test, change answers only if you are absolutely certain.  Again, don't spend a lot of time in this section.

  • Fill In The Blank

I don't use this question type often, but other teachers do, so I have included some tips.  Watch for grammar-based clues.  Look for clues from other questions in the test.  If you're stuck, take an educated guess.  If a word bank is available, cross out choices as you use them.

  • Matching

This can be a good way of testing key vocabulary.  Make sure to read the instructions carefully.  Read both lists all the way through.  Answer the ones you know, and cross out the choices you used.  Work your way through the list using the process of elimination.  To make these question types more challenging, sometimes a response can be used more than once, while others may not be used at all (which makes the process of elimination more difficult).

  • Open Response/Essay Questions

In my tests, these questions typically make up the bulk of the test, in one of two forms.  They may be math-problem based, or they may be written descriptions or analyses.  For these questions, your response should be targeted and to the point.  For math problems, include relevant formulas, show all your work, follow the rules of significant figures in your calculations, and use units in your answer.  For essays, the content is key, but correct grammar and spelling are also expected.  If I expect complete sentences, I will state that explicitly on the test.  A rubric for grading these questions will be posted soon.

How to take a chemistry test from General Chemistry Online

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